For the Abolition of Absolutes -- An Open Letter to the “New Atheists”

Man is everywhere enslaved by absolutist ideologies.  You have argued well for the absence of any god.  But the non-existence of god is just the tip of the iceberg.  Belief in a god is just a belief in one false absolute among many.  The real danger is man’s tendency to believe in imaginary moral absolutes rather than in advancing his own interests.  God’s non-existence is almost a trivial point.  The important question is whether there can be moral absolutes of any kind that have meaning.

You argue that religion is based on invalid beliefs because it does harm to human beings.  Yet it is obvious that the harmfulness of religion has no logical relationship to its truthfulness or validity.  Arguing against religion on the grounds that it is immoral or “bad”—to use a child’s term—is simply substituting one false absolute for another.  Religious believers argue that religion is good.  You say it is bad.  Therefore you are talking at cross purposes because neither side is defining what they mean by good or bad or what they mean by morality.  Further, you fall into the trap of accepting what the religious believe, namely that if there is a god it would be a god who is “good.”  There is no more basis for this belief than any other belief about god.

In fact, the relative morality or immorality of religion is completely irrelevant to the question of whether a god exists.  One cannot call religion—or anything else—“good” or “bad” in the abstract.  The words “good” and “bad” require an object.  Good must be “good” (i.e., have positive consequences) for something or it has no meaning at all.  And “bad” must be “bad” (i.e., have negative consequences) for something or it cannot be bad.

You repeatedly state that religion results in “bad,” “evil” or” immoral” consequences yet there is no discussion in your books of what “evil” is or what “morality” means.  Instead you assume the existence of some sort of unstated universal morality or at least a shared understanding of morality.  This results in a failure to address the meaning of good, evil and morality but to cite those concepts in your arguments against religion without any definition.  In fact, human beings are no closer to a shared understanding of morality than they are to a shared belief in a single religion or god.

Perhaps you say religion is “bad” to attract sympathy to your positions.  Certainly there can be emotional reactions against religion based on the massive harm to humans that religion has resulted in.  But massive harm has resulted from many other absolutist belief systems.  The murderous irreligious ideologies of Stalin, Hitler, Mao Tse-Tung, the Japanese and Germany armies in World War II, the atrocities committed against Armenians, Bosnians, Rwandans, Native Americans and African slaves in America and the persecution throughout history of countless other groups were not fundamentally driven by religion.  These other absolutist political or racial ideologies (i.e., myths) have done as much or perhaps even more harm than religion.  The problem is not religion in itself but beliefs in absolutist ideologies whether of religious, racial, cultural or secular origin.

Religion is just a subset of the false moral absolutes that so challenge human society.  How do we demonstrate to people the invalidity and absurdity of their own personal moral absolutes?  We can start by providing a framework that will encompass not only your own efforts against religion but also provide a basis for recognizing and eliminating absolutist beliefs in every guise and form and discussing what really motivates people—their own subjective self-interest.

There are three basic factual principles affecting the conditions of all human behavior, motivation and understanding.  These principles are easy to understand and practical in their application.  First, all human beings are limited in what they can experience by the constraints of their senses, their bodies and the envelope of skin in which they live.

This means that the only experience we can ever have is of ourselves.  Because our experience is limited to what we can sense, feel and think, all human knowledge is observer dependent.  Objective reality cannot be directly experienced by any being.  So the second basic principle is that beings can only experience themselves.

Finally, all beings in every moment attempt to act in their own subjective interests, whether those interests be conscious, unconscious, instinctive, voluntary or involuntary, and whether they relate to the interests of the individual or a group of individuals with which the individual imagines he has a relationship.  Given each individual’s separate and self-contained existence he cannot escape this prime directive of preserving and advancing himself.  We breathe, we eat, we love, we seek.  The individual’s ultimate concern must always be for himself and the social groups of which he is a member or with which he identifies or imagines he has an identification.

All behavior springs from these three principles.  Some important corollaries follow.
As all knowledge is observer dependent, knowledge of morality is also subjective and observer dependent.  Therefore, the supposed absolutes of God, morality, truth, reality and good and evil are meaningless as absolutes and can only be used to refer to subjective concerns.  For example, there are no things that are “bad” in the abstract.  There are only things that are “bad” for other things.

Morality is imagined to order the relations between people.  But as individuals always attempt to act in their own perceived interests, there is no room for morality to maneuver.  What really orders relations among living beings is subjective self-interest.  After all, what other principle can possibly motivate a living being but itself?

The absolutes imagined by humans are merely tools for measuring and justifying the subjective interests of individuals.  Each religious group believes that its religion is true and superior to all others which are false and inferior.  Nazis believed that Nazism was the ultimate good.  Anti-Nazis believe it remains the ultimate evil.  Fascists believe socialists are evil and vice versa. Racists believe their own race is superior; patriots of every land believe that their own country is the best; and sports fans believe in their own team the way the religious believe in their own god.  Each waves their own favorite false absolute as a banner to advance their own positions.

Determinism is just another false absolute.  As for free will, there is no other kind.  Will is free or it is not will.  The belief in determinism substitutes one false absolute for another.  Having rid yourselves of an all-powerful god, you now assert another all-powerful force and omniscient controller—a deterministic universe.  Determinism is just another absolutist ideology based on faith rather than fact.  But if you are determined to be determinists then you will have no choice but to continue to argue for the myth of determinism.

We live in a world without absolutes where imaginary absolutes are constantly being asserted as objectively valid.  The objective validity of any absolutes remains intrinsically unknowable, unprovable and utterly and almost ridiculously lacking in meaning except for the subjective purpose for which the particular absolute is asserted.  Each person invents or subscribes to a belief system that justifies himself by asserting the imagined rightness of his or her own values and beliefs.

When you say religion is “bad”, that statement has no meaning other than as a self-justifying characterization which attempts to objectify the obvious fact that you don’t like religion.  You don’t need to say that any particular religion is bad to refute it.  If you did need a religion to be “bad” to refute it, then a religion that you might consider to be “good” would not be subject to this kind of “moral” refutation.  For example, religions that are not terribly harmful to humanity, such as, the Bahá'í Faith or Tibetan Buddhism would then be validated because they are not “bad” for our “well-being”.

It is a simple matter to refute the existence of a god without any reference to its relative “morality”.  Imagine a world where there was a god.  It could not be any different than the world we live in now because this is the world we have.  The same is true of a world without any god.  It would be just the same as this one.  A god thus would add nothing to the world by its presence and would subtract nothing from the world by its absence.  A god has no impact on the world and therefore no quality that could be called an attribute of existence.  Having no such impact or quality, it does not and cannot exist other than in the minds and through the actions of its believers.

There is more.  The universe is utterly indifferent to ideas about morality.  It simply continues, impassive toward the fate of all the beings in it, including man.

The universe must be infinite in all directions of space and time or it would not be a universe.  And in fact, it is impossible to imagine that the universe is not infinite.  The universe does not require any creator or first cause.  It simply is, always has been, and always will be.  If the universe were imagined as finite in time or space then what would be beyond it, before it or after it?  Whatever that would be would have to be part of the universe or multiverse or megaverse, or whatever term language can invent for the broadest possible structure incorporating all space and all time, to an infinite extent in every direction and in every dimension.  The universe by definition must include whatever is outside of it or beyond it, otherwise it would not be the universe.  It therefore must be infinite in all directions of time and space.

The universe is not a being.  It therefore cannot matter to the universe whether it contains beings or doesn’t, although it will of course matter to any such beings.  But the universe is not dependent on man or any other being and has no use for beings or their purposes.  Like the beings in it, the universe lacks any purpose or meaning beyond the fact of its own infinite existence.

In every direction we look in the universe we see the same kinds of structures.  Nothing is unique.  If there is one galaxy there are untold billions.  If there is one black hole there are an infinite number of black holes.  If there is one planet with life on it there must be an infinity of others.  If there was one “big bang” there were many others.  In the face of such a universe all human claims about meaning and moral absolutes dissolve into absurdity and non-existence.
Selfish Wizard East Hampton, NY Copyright March 2017